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Opera fan Allegra (Elizabeth Reaser) loves Samantha (Julianne Nicholson), but she won't say so. Grace (Gretchen Mol) loves Philip (Justin Kirk) but he won't marry her. Samantha leaves Allegra. Allegra meets Philip. Philip leaves Grace. Allegra falls for Philip. Allegra meets Grace. Grace falls for Allegra. Allegra falls for Grace. Allegra sees Philip and Grace simultaneously and has no idea they are former lovers. Written and directed by Maria Maggenti (The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love), this sophisticated screwball sex comedy is a story of chance encounters, psychoanalytic excuses and one woman's struggle to make a commitment.
 

 Puccini For Beginners

An interview with Maria Maggenti as conducted by her lead character in Puccini for Beginners, Allegra Castiglione.

Allegra is a 28-year-old writer who lives in New York City. I created her about ten years ago but it took seven years to bring her to the screen. Allegra decided to conduct this interview because, as a character, she has been bugging me with these questions since we got into the editing room.

Allegra: Maria, why did you decide to put my most humiliating moment of the story right at the beginning of the film? Not only am I wearing a catering outfit, embarrassing in and of itself, but I am confronted by my two lovers, neither of whom knows about the other. And this in front of a room full of people! I think there’s a certain hostility in this gesture.

Maria: Okay, blame it on Susan Graef, my beloved editor. I didn’t write it that way and I didn’t shoot it that way. I thought we’d be able to get to know you and your dilemma long before you are shown up by your girlfriend and your boyfriend and your ex-girlfriend and her fiancé. But during one of my four rough cut screenings, people, quite frankly, really didn’t like you very much. Most of them told me that you were too attractive, too successful and whoopee ding, you had a boyfriend and a girlfriend. You alienated them with your riches. So, I had to take you down a notch to make you more sympathetic. Not only that, there weren’t very many laughs in those first two cuts and since this is a comedy and you’re supposed to be in a comic situation, we decided to open the film with your most humiliating moment. Oh, and the catering outfit looks cute on you.

Allegra: It’s not really my fault that I live in a pretty nice crib in this film. And I live in a gorgeous neighborhood in Manhattan, the West Village, which you show over and over again. Why did you try to alienate the audience by giving me such a nice place anyway?

Maria: Actually, you live in my old apartment in the West Village. And you live there because we could shoot there for free. In addition, my incredibly wonderful upstairs neighbors were willing to turn their apartment into holding for hair and make-up. All we had to do was run up and down the stairs. You, by the way, are an awful slob, something I am not. And we shot in the West Village because it’s so beautiful.

Allegra: You made me a writer, which I think most audiences will agree is one of the least cinematic of characters. Is that why you never show me writing anything?

Maria: You have writer’s block. And yes, showing a person “writing” is super boring. But like most writers, and I can say this with some authority, you spend much of your time entangled in real life dramas that you can only make sense of later on paper. You procrastinate, you make excuses, you play with your vibrator, you take lovers and you sleep too much, all of which I think is an accurate portrayal of the writer’s life.

Allegra: I am involved with a man and a woman in this film and yet you never once use the term bisexual. In fact, you make me have a kind of blithe, insouciant attitude towards sexuality. Why is that?

Maria: I’m not really interested in sexuality per se except to rid the world of homophobic hatred. But in this story, I was more interested in gender and the structures of heterosexuality. What makes a woman a woman and what makes a man a man, and how do they enact these ideas in relationship to each other? I allow you to go on a rant about marriage and how “straight” it is and then I make your boyfriend Philip (Justin Kirk) rebut you by sarcastically noting that lesbians must never have problems to which you arrogantly agree. Then, of course, I cut to you and your ex Samantha (Julianne Nicholson) having a screaming match. I have you and your girlfriend Grace (Gretchen Mol) have sex and then I have her ask you, a bit desperately really, if you’re going to call her. This was my little way of commenting on an irritating cliché, that women can’t fuck without falling in love. But you’re a woman and you don’t do that at all.

Allegra: You know, you’re pretty serious for someone who claims to have written and directed a comedy. Is that why you put me in analysis? I’m constantly referencing Freud, which is a whole discussion in and of itself.

Maria: The fact is that you’re a mess and messy people are great for storytelling.